Some of the most authentic and delicious wines are born from the least expected places and most unlikely collaborations. In the rugged mountains of Mexico’s Baja California Norte, El Equipo Bichi has recently put together one of the most exciting new projects in the world of wine. Noel and Jair Téllez, their mother Ana Montaño, and their team of collaborators produce beautifully expressive natural wines from mostly head-pruned, non-irrigated, organically farmed vineyards. The Spanish conquistadors first planted vines in Mexico in the 1500’s, pre-dating vine growing in both Chile and Argentina. About 90% of Mexico’s wine is produced in Valle de Guadalupe, with many of the oldest vineyards centered around Tecate, very close to the U.S. border. The soils in these regions are mainly sandy loam over granite, excellent for winegrowing, and some of the most distinctive vineyards are planted as high as 2,500 ft in elevation. The nearby Pacific Ocean brings a lovely spine of salinity into the wines and helps moderate temperatures, providing more moisture here than to other regions of Mexico. The Téllez family moved to Baja from neighboring Sonora (hence the name Bichi, which means “naked” in the Sonoran dialect) in the early 1970’s. Jair is a trained chef who opened his first restaurant in 1999: the pioneering farm-to-table Laja in the Guadalupe Valley. With the Mexico City additions of MeroToro and Amaya (offering the country’s first all-natural wine list), Jair is now one of Mexico’s most influential chefs. Back at the ranch in Tecate, the family planted their Home vineyard in 2004, where Ana Montaño currently oversees the farming and is responsible for converting their vineyard to biodynamics. Bichi bottled their first vintage in 2014. It was in that year that Jair and his brother Noel met Chilean natural wine trailblazer Louis-Antoine Luyt. Originally from Burgundy, Luyt worked in notable wineries in France before relocating to Chile in 1998. He is now known for his work with the under-appreciated País grape, which so happens to be the same Misión grape that is found in Tecate. Louis-Antoine convinced Noel and Jair to seek out heirloom plantings of Misión, as he had done in Chile, and produce "vinos sin maquillaje" (wines without makeup) from them. The Téllez brothers saw connections between Louis-Antoine’s approach to wine and Jair’s approach to cooking, and like a bolt of lightning, Bichi Wines was born. Noel has left his career as an attorney in Tijuana and now oversees the running of the winery. From finding these almost forgotten heritage vineyards, to day-to-day relationships with local farmers and fabrication of the concrete tinajas, Noel has been a crucial asset to the team. While Valle de Guadalupe has overall adopted a more technological and modern approach, Bichi adheres to traditional methods and minimal intervention. Bichi farms 10 hectares of their own Tecate vineyards biodynamically and collaborates with a growing family of organic farmers working vineyard land in Tecate and around Valle de Guadalupe. Their work with Misión is notable, but you will also find Rosa del Peru (Moscatel Negro), Tempranillo, and in the case of the No Sapiens vineyard a mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. In the winery, grapes are destemmed by hand and gently trodden by foot, and fermentations are carried out by wild yeast in locally-made concrete amphorae. The wines are raised in a mix of neutral barrels and steel vats, with a minuscule 10 ppm of sulfur added at bottling to preserve the wine for travel, if needed. It’s hard not to talk about Bichi without mentioning the labels, which are uniquely Mexican and represent the Téllez family's whimsical sense of humor. Inside the bottles are incredibly vibrant and transparent wines that evoke the nearby Pacific Ocean, the granite soils, and rugged mountain vineyards of their region. Through the persistent work of the family and their farmers and collaborators, lively Baja wine is officially on the map.
Pet Mex comes from a single, dry-farmed, and own-rooted 69-year-old vineyard comprised of a mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. The vines are planted close to the Pacific Ocean at 1,066 ft above sea level on sandy loam and granite soils in the area of San Antonio de las Minas in Ensenada, Baja. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and pressed after a few hours on the skins. Fermentation is with wild yeasts, and the wine is bottled before fermentation is finished, where the wine went through secondary fermentation, a la metodo ancestral. The result is a fresh and vibrant sparkling rosado, a perfect vin de soif to knock down on a hot day. No filtration or added SO2. Rosa comes from a dry-farmed 20ha vineyard comprised of a mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. The farmer says it could be Dolcetto, the Téllez family thinks maybe Cariñena due to it's sharp acidity, no one is quite sure and perhaps it doesn't really matter as this wine shows its place beautifully. The head-pruned, own-rooted vines are planted close to the Pacific Ocean in the area of San Antonio de las Minas in Ensenada, Baja Norte. The grapes were harvested by hand, de-stemmed and fermented and raised in steel tank, then bottled without fining or filtration and only 20 ppm of added SO2. This is a refreshing Pacific-inflected rosé wine, perfect for Baja-style fish tacos, camarones a la plancha, or just sharing with friends on the patio.
Listan is produced from 100-year-old pie franco Misión (Listan Prieto) vines grown at 2,400 ft elevation on sandy loam and granite soils in the mountains of Tecate, Mexico, right on the California border. Because the grapes are dry-farmed, yields are very low here. The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented without temperature control in 450 liter concrete tinajas. After fermentation, ½ of the cuvee goes to stainless steel vats, and the other goes to half to used barrels for 3 months. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration and just 10 ppm of added sulfur. A light ruby in the glass and at 12.5% abv, this is a supremely drinkable expression of the Mission grape with notes of floral, peppery red fruits, and refreshing briny acidity. To pair with peppered beef and dishes rich in umami.
La Santa comes from centenarian, own-rooted Rosa del Peru (Moscatel Negro) vines grown at 2,400 ft elevation on sandy loam and granite soils in Tecate. The grapes were hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and fermented without temperature control in 450 liter concrete tinajas with 45 days of maceration. The wine was then raised for 3 months in ½ stainless steel vats and ½ older barrels. A lively and vertical vin de soif, La Santa is almost rosé colored in the glass, delicately floral, with red and dark fruits and juicy acidity. A lovely red wine to serve chilled with charcuterie and cheeses.
No Sapiens comes from a single, dry-farmed, 69-year-old vineyard comprised ofa mysterious grape variety that remains unidentified. The farmer says it could be Dolcetto, Luyt thinks maybe Cariñena due to it's sharp acidity, no one is quite sure and perhaps it doesn't really matter as this wine shows it's place beautifully. The head-pruned, own-rooted vines are planted close to the Pacific Ocean at 1,066 ft above sea level on sandy loam and granite soils in the area of San Antonio de las Minas in Ensenada, Baja California. The grapes were harvested by hand towards the end of August, de-stemmed, and then fermented in concrete tinajas. The wine was raised for 3 months in equal parts steel vat and older oak and bottled without fining or filtration and only 10 ppm’s of added SO2. This is the most linear of the Bichi wines, with crunchy dark fruit, ample vibrancy and structure. A wine that will get better with time in the bottle. Decant before serving.
Mistico is comprised of a field blend of grapes from the various parcels and terruños that Bichi works with in both Tecate and Valle de Guadalupe. The wine was vinified the same way as the other red wines, except for 1 tinaja of Tempranillo seeing some carbonic maceration. It is a fresh, broad, and complex vino tinto with notes of red fruits, spice, and mineral, perfect to pair with carnitas, grilled mushroom tacos, and other Baja fare.
Flama Roja comes from the Téllez family’s home vineyard in Tecate. A blend of young Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon vines which they planted themselves in 2004 and farmed biodynamically just like their vegetable and herb gardens. The grapes were harvested by hand, de-stemmed and co-fermented in locally made concrete tinajas with 30 days of maceration, raised in a mix of steel tank and used French barrels over winter, and bottled without fining or filtration and only 10ppm of added SO2. Flama Roja is a well-structured, medium-bodied Pacific red wine with bright acidity, red/black fruit and firm tannins. A perfect match for meat ragu pastas or grilled and roasted meats.